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Publisher's URL: http://www.gaskellsociety.co.uk
Elizabeth Gaskell’s article, “Robert Gould Shaw”, in Macmillan’s Magazine, Cambridge, vol. IX, December 1863, is one of her less well-known pieces of journalism. She outlined the life and death - at the head of a black regiment in the American Civil War - of the 25-year-old only son of her friend, Sarah Shaw of Staten Island, New York. The article’s chief value at the time was as propaganda for the abolitionist and Union causes, while the British government considered recognising the Confederacy for the sake of the cotton trade. The author all but canonised her subject in her efforts to appeal to her readers’ emotions. However, notwithstanding its historical interest as propaganda, the article repays closer attention; for behind the eulogy lies the story of a talented, courageous family, and an image of heroism still poignant and pertinent after 132 years.